This is the third in a four-part series featuring an interview with recent MIT Program in Comparative Media Studies graduate and C3 alumnus Geoffrey Long.
Sam: What do you think is on the horizon in terms of media development and continuing changes in the way media industries tell their stories and also in the relationship between producers and consumers?
Geoff: I think that we're on the verge of some truly exciting stuff, creatively speaking.
I think that the genuinely smart big entertainment companies are finally adopting the 'nimbler, faster' model magazines like Fast Company and WIRED have been preaching for years, and are learning how to provide specialty entertainment to niche audiences.
The very nature of corporate America makes big companies almost insatiable, demanding higher ratings and greater profit margins and bigger and bigger ROI, but that's not what America - or the world, for that matter - is anymore, so these behemoths are starving themselves out.
The days of I Love Lucy dominating the vast majority of the American psyche are just plain over. Big companies need to learn that making reasonable profits on an intelligently-increasing number of niche properties is not just a recipe for survival, but is also a model for thriving in our new media landscape.
A show like The West Wing doesn't have to have the ratings of ER in order to be a 'hit' if the success criteria are properly scaled, and the property is properly developed.
Online video and mobile media blow the doors off conventional network thinking because now any time is prime time, and any place is now fair game for media consumption. We're looking at a much wider range of delivery options now, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses.
I think three things are going to happen moving forward: one, any piece of content is going to be available in any form - and that's a good thing.
Sure, The Abyss is going to lose some of its grandeur if I'm watching it on an iPhone, but being able to watch it when and where I want, on my terms, is obviously going to have its advantages. Some consumers will want to make those trade-offs, and others won't - and that's okay.
As long as porting that content to these new forms can be done affordably, making that content available at all is going to win beaucoup points to the people that care - and those people have both memories and very loud voices. The 'influentials' are a very real phenomenon.
Two, creatives are going to learn what each of these media forms do really well, and are going to exploit the living daylights out of them.
Transmedia storytelling is such an exciting area right now because we're seeing the rise of true transmedia storytellers, creatives that really know how to capitalize on multiple media forms.
Right now, Joss Whedon is my hero because of the amazing work he's doing with the new Buffy comics from Dark Horse. While Buffy might not have been able to sustain the ratings required to keep it on the air (again, witness the ever-expanding, self-defeating hunger of corporate America at play), by moving the official canon of the story into comics (not just cheap, optional spinoffs!), Whedon is enjoying a true creative kick in the pants. He's able to do things with the characters in comics that the limited budgets of TV special effects just couldn't touch, and he's telling stories that really use all that comics have to offer as a medium.
I think we're going to see more and more of this moving forward as other storytellers use multiple media themselves instead of licensing out the rights to other companies to produce narratively optional, second-grade knockoffs, which audiences often (quite rightly) write off as being simple grabs for more money.
Third, I think 'prosumption' is really on the rise on all fronts.
This is a no-brainer for writing and filmmaking, which we've already seen explode in the last 5-10 years, but now it's expanding to include video game development. We're still in the rough-and-tumble frontier days of this, but Microsoft's XNA initiative, while clumsy, is incredibly exciting because of how it promises to open up console development to independent developers.
Digital distribution systems for games like Steam, GameTap, the Xbox Live Arcade and Nintendo's Wii channels have 'niche entertainment capitalization' written all over them.
Perhaps even more telling is how independent developers are driving the next wave of computer applications - at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference this month, the demos of their upcoming operating system upgrade (Leopard) were exciting, but not half as exciting as what a bunch of these tiny developer shops are doing with it. The huge companies like Adobe are doing some great stuff, sure, but it's the tiny ones like Delicious Monster and Sofa that are creating truly jaw-dropping experiences.
Smaller, nimbler, with lower overhead and more willingness to do insanely great stuff...That's where the next Google will come from. (Come to think of it, that's where the last Google came from.)